I love to understand people–including myself. I am interested in knowing what motivates and drives others. I constantly study the behaviors of others looking to reveal their inner-lives, hopes and desires. This comes in handy as a teacher, as a mother and as member of society at large.
Understanding teenagers often seems an impossibility more difficult than cracking the Enigma code. My beautiful niece whose photographs add beauty and reader interest to this entry is currently smack dab in the middle of her own identity formation stage–something that has not been easy for her or her mother at times. She is talented, intelligent, beautiful and creative. She is also moody, prone to sadness, self-depreciative, and often isolates herself from those who love her most. She sometimes doesn’t even know herself why she is the way she is or why she does the things she does.
Yet, she has an inborn desire to understand herself and her place in the world often asking herself: “What is my role?” and “What is my purpose in this world?” I know this from discussions we have had, and also because she allows me to read her rawest thoughts that come out in the fiction she writes as expressed through the characters she creates. I am privileged to see glimpses of her inner world, I think, because I’ve proven myself to be a constant and trusted adult in her life, but also because we have some innate personality similarities as well as common ground in our chosen medium of expression–the written word.
One mechanism that I have come to rely on in understanding myself and others and especially teenagers is the Briggs-Meyer personality matrix. The model developed by two women psychologists relies on self-examination and identification of ones own preferences in interacting with others and the greater world. Through a series of questions answered honestly everyone can discover their unique combination of traits that translate into their overall personality type. Sounds overly simplified perhaps, but I have found it to be quite accurate despite criticisms of validity and reliability.
The test known as the MBTI “measures four pairs of opposing preferences, which are inborn and value-neutral, to form a person’s four-letter type.” The self-report tool narrows down a preference for either “Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I),” “Sensing (S) or Intuition (N),” “Thinking (T) or Feeling (F),” and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).” The results lead to one of 16 different personality types, like INFP or ESTJ. These tests are marketed to companies for personnel purposes. But, I have found them useful especially for teenagers in helping them on their Identity Quest as noted by famed psychologist Erik Erikson as the purpose of the decade (almost) from ages 12-18.
Erikson proposed that personality develops over a lifespan, and developed a model comprised of 8 stages. Five stages make up the ages from infancy to the age of 18 years and then three additional stages occur up through late adulthood. Erikson allows for a lifetime of growth and development. However, Erikson emphasizes the adolescent period as essential to identity development. And as he believed in an epigenic principle of predetermined order each stage is crucial to the one that follows.
So, the teenage experience and identity development helps determine the success of development in seceding stages. In other words, the better a teenager understands who he or she is as a teen at their core level the better he or she is prepared to become an adult.
My teenage years were somewhat lonely, though I had friends and family to support me. I often felt different than others based on the thoughts I had and my degree of sensitivity. I cared more about big ideas than I did about high school gossip. I focused more on intellectual and personal growth than I did on fashion and popularity. And though, socially I was accepted by a wide range of people, I always felt awkward and outside the realm of any particular cliques.
In discussion with my lovely niece, we have found this commonality, that even among a large group of friends we often feel alone. What is it that leads us both to feel the isolation or inability to just enjoy the moment? Let’s return to the above-mentioned personality test. I am an INFP, my niece is an INTJ–our similarities lie in our IN type–introversion and intuition. We both get our energy stores refilled by spending time alone. Though we can be social and friendly, social activity drains us. The need to have time to think and refuel is an Introverted preference. We also are alike in our Intuitive use of information by taking in new information in creative ways instead of more pragmatic ways. We are more philosophical than practical in how we process new ideas and learning.
We do differ in how we make decisions whereas I am a F or a Feeler, she is a T or Thinker. My aim when making a decision is to maintain peace and harmony. Her aim in decision making is to arrive at the best choice through objective truth. Another way we differ is in how we like things to be at the end of the day or at the end of their course. As a P or Perceiver I like things to stay open and adaptable with the ability to change as needed. My niece, on the other hand, prefers neat and tidy endings without loose ends. She likes closure and needs to wrap things up nicely.
Knowing these types or preferences, in my opinion, is invaluable because we can understand the reasons for why we relate to each other and also understand the areas where we differ. I wish I’d known my type as teenager perhaps knowing that only 4 percent of the population falls into the INFP category would have helped me understand my feelings of otherness. My niece who is an even rarer .8 percent of the population as a female INTJ was blown away knowing that she is truly unique in her high school population at large. Knowing we are not common types in society is helpful and validating because we then can see that it isn’t that we have a problem relating to the rest of the world, but rather we are part of the diversity that the world needs to be relatable.
My type produces works of fiction and creative roles. “INFPs have a talent for self-expression, revealing their beauty and their secrets through metaphors and fictional characters.” Examples of INFPs include: William Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, A.A. Milne, Björk, Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts, Lisa Kudrow, Tom Hiddleston, Homer and Virgil.
My niece’s type produces non-traditional, but highly effective leaders. “Rules, limitations and traditions are anathema to the INTJ personality type – everything should be open to questioning and reevaluation, and if they see a way, INTJs will often act unilaterally to enact their technically superior, sometimes insensitive, and almost always unorthodox methods and ideas.” Examples of INTJs include: Vladimir Putin, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Samantha Power, Lance Armstrong, Richard Gere, Arnold Schwarzenegger,Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Woodrow Wilson and Augustus Caesar.
I asked my mom to take the Online test to determine her type. It absolutely confirmed what I’ve always known–we are polar opposites. My mother is an Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judger (ESTJ). We couldn’t be more different, and I think we’ve always struggled to relate to and understand each other because we are so different.
I tried to get my niece’s mother to take the test online, but as of yet, she hasn’t done so. If I had to guess, she is most likely an ESFP–the polar opposite of her daughter as well. I hope to one day confirm or repute my suspicion that some or even most of her conflicts with my niece boil down to simple differences in personality and preferences. It might help them have a better chance of relating to each other if they know now instead of waiting as long as my mother and I did.
I love the character analysis of Star Wars using the Briggs-Meyer test. This really helps understand all the 16 personality types in a simplified way (if you’re a Star Wars enthusiast that is)! I am Luke Skywalker, the idealist. My niece, and this is frightening, is Palpatine, the Mastermind. Her mother (not confirmed just suspected) is Wicket, the Performer. My mother is Darth Vader, the Supervisor. I guess there is now a bonafide reason that I’ve always related to the conflict of the Star Wars trilogy😊!
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